The days of free-flowing, attacking football at Manchester United look to be over as Louis van Gaal’s side continue with their possession-obsession style of play.
In a week in which United supporters should have been celebrating their return to the Champions League group-stages, they were instead left frustrated in defeat despite controlling the game.
The Red Devils controlled 67% of the ball during the 2-1 loss in Eindhoven but could only muster five shots on target in the 90 minutes.
Worryingly, United rarely threatened the PSV defence when chasing a goal, with questions once again being asked about their lack of pace and creativity in the final third.
Despite another summer spending spree which has seen over £100m worth of talent come through the Old Trafford door, Van Gaal has yet to consistently get the best out his front four options and has a win percentage only marginally better than the ill-fated David Moyes.
If there is one thing Van Gaal’s philosophy has instilled in his side, it’s that his players must control the game and take the few chances that they produce.
The Dutchman has eliminated risk from United’s play, with their wealth of attacking talent more often than not opting for a safer pass towards the defensive midfielders rather than utilising their pace to run at the opposition defence.
On paper, United have made a strong start to their Premier League campaign this season and sit third with just a solitary defeat away at Swansea.
Their average possession in those five matches is 59% but they have only produced 18 shots on target resulting in five goals.
The opening two wins over Tottenham and Aston Villa saw United hit the target on just three occasions but Van Gaal insisted after the 1-0 win away at Villa Park that he was not concerned by the lack of prowess in the final third.
“The few shots on target does not bother me because you have to score one more than your opponent and that’s the result,” said the Dutchman.
Furthermore, in the 3-1 win over Liverpool last weekend the United manager appeared more pleased with his side’s display in the goalless and dull opening 45 minutes.
“I think we played better in the first half, we had far more control but we didn’t create so much,” he said.
“I think there were two chances and a lot of possibilities in the third and fourth phase but the last pass was not so good.”
The Dutchman’s comments were echoed by Morgan Schneiderlin earlier this week when asked about his manager’s philosophy.
The midfielder, who faces his former club Southampton this weekend, told French newspaper So Foot: “I have to protect my defence.
“With time, I’ll start shooting from distance again, but the most important thing for us is to not concede any goals, meaning that we only need to score one to get the three points.”
United have certainly looked more solid at the back this season and their dominance of possession does restrict the opposition to creating fewer chances.
That did not faze PSV in midweek however and Swansea claimed all three points last month despite only having 35% of the ball and four shots on target.
Luke Shaw’s withdrawal after his horrific leg break appeared to unsteady United’s back-four on Tuesday with both Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo at fault for PSV’s winner.
Shaw’s injury is expected to see Rojo partner Chris Smalling in central defence this weekend and Daley Blind move to left-back.
That being said, and with the threat going forward that Ronald Koeman’s pose, United could play even more conservatively than they have so far this campaign, as they adapt to their new defensive shape.
Southampton had the second-best defensive record in the league last season and United must ensure they take their chances in front of goal if they are to come away with the three points.
As long as the Red Devils continue to grind out results, Van Gaal’s possession-orientated philosophy will not change.
The attacking football United fans have become accustomed to over the years still looks some distance off.
Main image courtesy of FullTimeDevils via YouTube, with thanks.